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SL9: Introduction to the Language, Literature and Culture of Ukraine

'Ukraine is a country that is "in between" in all possible ways,' according to the Ukrainian intellectual Mykola Riabchuk. This paper introduces you to the rich language, literature, and culture of Ukraine and seizes upon the 'in-betweenness' of the second largest country in Europe - the historical permeability of its territorial, linguistic, and ethnic borders - as an opportunity to explore the interdependency of the cultures of Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region.

Ukrainian, spoken by over 40 million people around the world, is the official state language of Ukraine. For centuries its very existence was under threat from Russian Imperial and Soviet authorities; today, from the cafes of L'viv to the boulevards of Kyiv and Odesa, it is experiencing a revival. This paper offers an introduction to the fundamentals of Ukrainian designed for those with very little or no knowledge of the language. Through twice-weekly classes during the academic year, you will learn the principal grammar structures and vocabulary so as to acquire a basic proficiency in reading and speaking Ukrainian.

The literature and visual culture of Ukraine will be the focus of weekly lectures and fortnightly supervisions. The first part of the paper will trace the development of modern Ukrainian literature in the nineteenth century from the burlesque travesty of Kotliarevs'kyi and his epigones to the passionate romanticism of Shevchenko. The second part will chart the reverberations of what might be called the 'Shevchenko effect' - the resounding call for a commitment to national culture - in Ukrainian letters from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

The paper will also explore these themes and topics with a view to twenty-first century developments in Ukraine, especially the EuroMaidan Revolution and the current armed conflict with Russia.

Paper SL 9 has an online course companion with an enhanced syllabus and supervision guidelines on Moodle.


The origins of modern Ukrainian literature

This first section is preceded by a lecture on the history of Ukraine from the era of Kyivan Rus' to the Cossack Hetmanate. It continues with a brief introduction to the Cossack Baroque and with a discussion of the first stirrings of Kotliarevs'kyi’s creativity before delving into an analysis and interpretation of the first work of modern Ukrainian literature, the travesty (mock epic) Eneïda.

  • Ihor Ševčenko, ‘Ukraine between East and West’ from Ukraine between East and West (Toronto 1996)
  • Marc Raeff, ‘Ukraine and Imperial Russia: Intellectual and Political Encounters from
 the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century’, from Peter J. Potichnyj et al. eds., Ukraine and Russia in Their Historical Encounter (Edmonton 1992)
  • George S.N. Luckyj, Between Gogol' and Shevchenko (Munich 1971), pp. 11-45
  • Selections from Ivan Kotliarevs'kyi, Eneïda from Poetychni tvory, dramatychni tvory, lysty (Kyiv 1982)
  • Selections from Ivan Kotliarevs'kyi, Eneïda from The Ukrainian Poets, 1189-1962 (Toronto 1963)
  • Marko Pavlyshyn, ‘The Rhetoric and Politics of Kotliarevsky’s Eneida’, Journal of Ukrainian Studies 10: 1 (Summer 1985)

Recommended reading

  • Myroslav Shkandrij, Russia and Ukraine: Literature and the Discourse of Empire from Napoleonic to Postcolonial Times (Montreal 2001): Introduction and Chapter One

Kotliarevshchyna, Hohol' / Gogol', and the performance of Ukrainian culture

This section explores various appropriations of Kotliarevs'kyi’s portrayal of Ukrainian culture in the works of his epigones, the so-called kotliarevshchyna, and specifically in selected texts from Petro Hulak-Artemovs'kyi, early Nikolai Gogol'/Mykola Hohol', and Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnov’ianenko. It seeks to understand the interest of the imperial ‘centre’ in the culture of the Ukrainian ‘periphery’ – as well as the periphery’s willingness to package and deliver its culture to the centre for elite consumption.

  • George S.N. Luckyj, Between Gogol’ and Shevchenko (Munich 1971), pp. 45-67, 88-127
  • Petro Hulak-Artemovs'kyi, ‘Deshcho pro toho Haras'ka’ from Petro Hulak-Artemovs'kyi / Ievhen Hrebinka (Kyiv 1984)
  • Nikolai Gogol', ‘Foreword’, ‘The Fair at Sorochintsy’, ‘Christmas Eve’, ‘Taras Bul'ba’ from Village Evenings near Dikanka and Mirgorod, trans. Christopher English (Oxford 1994)
  • Selection from Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnov’ianenko, ‘Konotops'ka vid'ma’ from Povisti ta opovidannia, dramatychni tvory (Kyiv 1982)
  • Extracts from Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnov’ianenko, ‘The Witch of Konotop’, trans. Myroslav​ Shkandrij (accessible at

Recommended reading

  • Edyta M. Bojanowska, Nikolai Gogol: Between Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism (Cambridge, MA 2007): Introduction, Chapter One, Chapter Two

  • Volodymyr Dibrova, ‘Taras Bulba: The Novel, the Film, the Politics’ (available on CamTools only)
  • George G. Grabowicz, ‘Between Subversion and Self-Assertion: The Role of Kotliarevshchyna in Russian-Ukrainian Literary Relations’, from Andreas Kappeler et al., eds., Culture, Nation, and Identity: The Ukrainian-Russian Encounter (1600-1945) (Edmonton 2003)

Shevchenko and Romanticism

This section centres on Romanticism in Ukrainian literature, a movement led by the poet and painter Taras Shevchenko. It marks a crucial shift in the development of Ukrainian national culture from a discourse largely oriented toward the entertainment of imperial elites in St Petersburg and Moscow – for whom depictions of endearing peasants seemed to offer access to an elusive narodnost' – to a discourse oriented toward the edification and mobilization of the Ukrainian gentry. The movement was committed to lofty artistic expression in the Ukrainian vernacular and to the promotion of a Ukrainian identity that would inspire pride and passion – and a new politics.

  • George S.N. Luckyj, Between Gogol’ and Shevchenko (Munich 1971), pp. 128-80
  • Selection from Mykola Kostomarov, ‘Knyhy butiia ukraïns'koho narodu’ from Kyrylo-Mefodiïvs'ke tovarystvo, Vol. 1 (Kyiv 1990)
  • Mykola Kostomarov, ‘Books of the Genesis of the Ukrainian People’ from Ralph Lindheim and George S.N. Luckyj, eds., Towards an Intellectual History of Ukraine (Toronto 1996)
  • Taras Shevchenko, ‘Kavkaz’, ‘...Moie druzhnieie poslanie’, ‘Son’ from Povne zibrannia​ tvoriv u dvanadtsiaty tomakh, Vol. 1 (Kyiv 2001)
  • Taras Shevchenko, The Poet of Ukraine: Selected Poems, trans. Clarence A. Manning (Jersey City 1945)
  • Taras Shevchenko, Selected Works: Poetry and Prose, ed. John Weir (Moscow 1964)
  • Selection from Panteleimon Kulish, Chorna Rada from Tvory v dvokh tomakh Vol. 1 (Kyiv 1998)
  • Panteleimon Kulish, The Black Council, trans. George S. N. and Moira Luckyj (Littleton, CO 1973)

Recommended reading

  • Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, rev. ed. (London 1991), pp. 1-46
  • Bohdan Rubchak, ‘Introduction’, from George S.N. Luckyj, ed., Shevchenko and the Critics: 1861-1980 (Toronto 1980)
  • George G. Grabowicz, The Poet as Mythmaker: A Study in Symbolic Meaning in Taras​ Shevchenko (Cambridge, MA 1982)

Towards a Ukrainian Realism

This section centres on Realism in Ukrainian literature, a movement initiated to a great degree by the literary phenomenon Marko Vovchok and cultivated with intellectual sophistication and erudition by the giant Ivan Franko.

  • Selection from Marko Vovchok, ‘Instytutka’ from Opovidannia, kazky, povisti, roman (Kyiv 1983)
  • Marko Vovchok, ‘Instytutka’, Ukrainian Folk Stories, trans. N. Pedan-Popil (Saskatoon 1983)
  • Ivan Franko, ‘Rubach’ and ‘Svyns'ka konstytutsiia’ from Zibrannia tvoriv u p’iatdesiaty tomakh Vols. 15 and 20 (Kyiv 1978 and 1979)
  • Ivan Franko, ‘The Hewer’ and ‘The Constitution for Pigs’, from Short Stories, trans. Cecilia Dalway and John Weir (Kyiv 1977)

Recommended reading

  • George Grabowicz, ‘Province to Nation: Nineteenth-Century Ukrainian Literature as a Paradigm of the National Revival’, Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism 16.1-2 (1989)
  • Solomea Pavlychko, ‘Marko Vovchok’, Feminizm (Kyiv 2002)
  • Ivan Franko, ‘Beyond the Limits of the Possible’, from Ralph Lindheim and George S.N. Luckyj, eds., Towards an Intellectual History of Ukraine (Toronto 1996)
  • Tamara Hundorova, Nevidomyi Ivan Franko (Kyiv 2006): pp. 10-14
  • Iaroslav Hrytsak, Prorok u svoïi vitchyzni: Franko ta ioho spil'nota 1856-1886 / A Prophet in His Native Land: Franko and His Community (Kyiv 2007): pp. 335-363, 369-383.

Fin de Siècle Modernism

This section focuses on the turn of 20th century and the difficult emergence of Modernism in Ukrainian letters, an aesthetic paradigm that put aside ‘worn-out tendencies and compelling morals’ in favour of ‘works with a small dose of originality, with a free, independent outlook, and with contemporary content’ (Mykola Voronyi, 1901). The standard-bearers of Ukrainian Modernist prose, poetry, and drama were Mykhailo Kotsiubyns'kyi, Lesia Ukraïnka, and Ol'ha Kobylians'ka. Although Ukraïnka will be featured in lectures, we will be reading only Kotsiubyns'kyi and Kobylians'ka in this section.

  • George Y. Shevelov, The Ukrainian Language in the First Half of the Twentieth Century (1900-1941) (Cambridge, MA 1989), Chapter One
  • Selection from Ol'ha Kobylians'ka, ‘Valse mélancolique’ from Povisti, opovidannia​ novely (Kyiv 1988)
  • Ol'ha Kobylians'ka, Valse mélancolique, trans. Myroslav Shkandrij (accessible at
  • Selection from Ol'ha Kobylians'ka, ‘Pryroda’ from Povisti, opovidannia, novely (Kyiv 1988)
  • Ol'ha Kobylians'ka, ‘Nature’ from Their Land: An Anthology of Ukrainian Short Stories (Jersey City 1964)

  • Selection from Mykhailo Kotsiubyns'kyi, Tini zabutykh predkiv from Vybrani tvory (Kyiv 1977)
  • Mykhailo Kotsyubinsky, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, trans. Marco Carynnyk (Littleton, CO 1981)

Recommended reading

  • Solomea Pavlychko, ‘Modernism vs. Populism in Fin de Siècle Ukrainian Literature’ from Pamela Chester and Sibelan Forrester, eds., Engendering Slavic Literatures (Indianapolis, 1996)
  • Bohdan Rubchak, ‘The Music of Satan and the Bedeviled World: An Essay on Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky’ from Mykhailo Kotsyubinsky, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, trans. Marco Carynnyk (Littleton, CO, 1981)

‘The Garrotted Renaissance’

After a discussion of the tumult of 1914-1922, this three-week section centres on the magnificent achievements of the Soviet Ukrainian Cultural Renaissance, a period of feverish polemics and artistic innovation. Close attention will be paid to the poetry of Pavlo Tychyna and Mykhail' Semenko and to the prose of Mykola Khvyl'ovyi.

  • Pavlo Tychyna, ‘Soniashni klarnety’, The Complete Early Poetry Collections of Pavlo     Tychyna, trans. Michael M. Naydan (L'viv 2000)
  • Mykhail' Semenko, ‘Moia mozaïka’, Vybrani tvory (Würzburg 1979)
  • Selections from Mykola Khvyl'ovyi, ‘Ia (Romantyka)’ and ‘Sentymental'na istoriia’ from   Tvory u dvokh tomakh, Vols. 1 and 2 (Kyiv 1990)
  • Mykola Khvylovy, Stories from the Ukraine, trans. George S.N. Luckyj  (New York 1960)

Recommended reading

  • George G. Grabowicz, ‘Pavlo Tychyna’ from George Stade, ed., European Writers: The Twentieth Century, Vol. 10 (New York 1990)
  • Oleh Ilnytzkyj, Ukrainian Futurism, 1914-1930: A Historical and Critical Study      (Cambridge, MA 1997)
  • George S.N. Luckyj, Literary Politics in the Soviet Ukraine, 1917–1934, rev. ed.   (Durham, NC 1990)
  • Myroslav Shkandrij, Modernists, Marxists, and the Nation: the Ukrainian Literary Discussion of the 1920s (Edmonton 1992)

The Shestydesiatnyky

This section focuses on the ‘60ers’ in Ukrainian culture and the phenomenon of political dissidence and considers the use of literature as a form of action in defence of freedom, equality, and a universal respect for others.

  • Selection from Ivan Dziuba, Internationalizm chy rusyfikatsiia? (Kyiv 1998)

  • Ivan Dziuba, Internationalism or Russification: A Study in the Soviet Nationalities Problem (New York 1974)

  • Selections from Lina Kostenko, Vybrane (Kyiv 1989)
  • Lina Kostenko, Selected Poetry: Wanderings of the Heart, trans. Michael Naydan (New York 1990)
  • Selections from Vasyl' Stus, Palimpsesty: Vybrane, 2nd ed. (Kyiv 2006)

Recommended reading

  • Michael Browne, ed., Ferment in the Ukraine (New York 1971)
  • Lesya Jones and Bohdan Yasen, eds., The Ukrainian Herald, Issue 6: Dissent in Ukraine (Baltimore 1977)
  • Dmytro Stus, Vasyl' Stus: Zhyttia iak tvorchist' (Kyiv 2004)

The New Ukrainian Writing

This section celebrates the carnivalesque literature of Iurii Andrukhovych and the bubabisty and considers its roots in the tradition of Kotliarevskian burlesque, among other places. It also examines in English translation the Russian-language prose of Andrei Kurkov, who has become an international literary star.

  • Selections from Iurii Andrukhovych, Rekreatsiï (Kyiv 1992)

  • Yuri Andrukhovych, Recreations, trans. Marko Pavlyshyn (Toronto 1998)
  • Selections from Iurii Andrukhovych, Moskoviada (Kyiv 1993)

  • Yuri Andrukhovych, The Moscoviad, trans. Vitaly Chernetsky (New York 2008)
  • Andrei Kurkov, Death and the Penguin (London 2003)

Recommended reading

  • Marko Pavlyshyn, ‘Post-Colonial Features in Contemporary Ukrainian Culture’, Australian Slavonic and East European Studies 6.2 (1992)
  • Oksana Zabuzhko, ‘Reinventing the Poet in Modern Ukrainian Culture’, The Slavic and East European Journal 39:2 (Summer 1995)
  • Vitaly Chernetsky, Mapping Postcommunist Cultures: Russia and Ukraine in the Context of Globalization (Montreal 2007)
Preparatory reading: 

Prior to the beginning of the Michaelmas term, you are encouraged to read Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation by Serhy Yekelchyk (Oxford 2007) and to study the first five chapters of Colloquial Ukrainian: The Complete Course for Beginners by Ian Press and Stefan M. Pugh (London 2008). The recommended dictionary for translation exercises is C.H. Andrusyshen’s Ukrainian-English Dictionary (Toronto 1981). All of these resources may be accessed at the MML library or purchased at

In this paper you are asked, among other things, to read literature – to explore the play of form and content and to consider the ‘experienceability’ of a text. What demands does the text make on the reader? How does the text ‘speak’? To whom? For an engaging example of close reading, the course adviser recommends James Wood’s How Fiction Works (London 2008), especially pp. 5-31 and 48-161.

Teaching and learning: 

Through twice-weekly classes during the academic year, you will learn the principal grammar structures and vocabulary so as to acquire a basic proficiency in reading and speaking Ukrainian. The literature and visual culture of Ukraine will be the focus of weekly lectures and fortnightly supervisions.


This paper is open to students of all Sections of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and available in both Part IB and Part II. At Part IB the paper is available both to former post-A-level students and to former beginners. No previous knowledge of Ukrainian is expected or required.

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Course Contacts: 
Dr Olenka Pevny

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